Concert preview: Lake Street Dive graduates from blue-collar watering holes to the national stage

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From the February 27, 2014 edition

In mid-2012, the band members in Lake Street Dive shot an impromptu music video on the sidewalk outside a friend’s Boston home. There was nothing unusual about the performance — a slow, seductive take on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” — and the soul/jazz collective had already shown a willingness to film itself playing in unexpected locales, including on a playground and in a family member’s kitchen.

But for some reason this particular performance captured the public’s imagination. Actor Kevin Bacon posted the video to his Twitter account (“Gives me chills!” he wrote), and links soon popped up on heavily trafficked sites like Reddit and WorldstarHipHop. Views spiked accordingly, going from 50,000 to more than 300,000 in less than 24 hours, and the video has now been viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube.

Of course, as much of this rise occurred, the bandmates, who first met while attending the New England Conservatory of Music and have been gigging and recording together the better part of a decade, were stowed away in relative isolation at the Great North Sound Society, a studio space located on a remote 18th century farmhouse in Parsonfield, Maine, where they recorded much of their most recent full-length, Bad Self Portraits.

“It was mid-October [2012] when the video started to really go viral, which was like a week before we were set to go into the studio,” said singer Rachael Price, reached on the drive back to Boston following a mid-February taping of an appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman.” “So we went in to recording excited that the video was starting to get a lot of views, and then we turned off our phones and didn't look at our email for a week, and when we came out of the studio we had basically a whole different trajectory for our year.”

It’s an upswing that has continued unabated, and in recent months Lake Street Dive has popped up all over both stage and screen. The band performed on “The Colbert Report” and at the Coen Brothers-curated “Another Day, Another Time” concert, and Price appeared as herself in a scene on the latest season of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” shaking hands with Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian politician after belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a baseball game.

According to Price, it’s a level of attention the band would not have been equipped to deal with in its earliest days — “We went through an awkward phase where we didn't even know what kind of music it was going to be,” she said, “Was it soul? Was it jazz? Was it improvisational? Was it not?” — and even now there are moments when the crush of attention can overwhelm.

After all, the musicians initially conceived Lake Street with the modest goal of performing in dive bars (it even takes its name from a blue-collar stretch of Minneapolis watering holes), which were the only types of shows the band could attract for much of its early history.

“We applied to be an honors ensemble at [the New England Conservatory], and if we had been accepted we would have played in the nicer halls there,” Price said. “But we didn't get it, so it was dive bars or nothing for us.”

Jarrod McCabe photo